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Executive Director's Message
The biggest news over the past two weeks has been the release of the "EAT Lancet" report, "food in the anthropocene," which I have already mentioned several times in newsletters, so I will not be adding much to what I have already said.
I have created a web page that I will update as more news coverage comes out on the subject. You will need your membership login details to access that page on the site, so if you have mislaid them please request a new password. Feel free to send any more reactions you think add to the discussion.
On balance, I think the statement from Beef and Lamb New Zealand finds a balance between stating that there is a need for discussion and making it clear that red meat is an important part of healthy diets and can be produced sustainably. GRSB and our members should be promoting the value of the work we do to increase the sustainability of the beef value chain.
This week, another Lancet Commission report is being released, this time entitled: "The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change". While they are not saying anything different than the EAT report about the nature of current consumption and health patterns, this time they are connecting these to the power of large companies to influence policy through lobbying and are calling for the creation of a Framework Convention on Food, similar to those for Tobacco and Climate Change.
This convention would would explicitly exclude the food industry from policy development. "Such a commitment would recognise the fundamental and irreconcilable conflict that exists between some food and drinks industries' interests and those of public health and the environment; that all parties must be transparent and accountable when dealing with industry or working to further their interests; and that no fiscal advantages or inducements to produce food and beverage products that damage human and environmental health should exist."
A number of influential writers have added comments to preface the report including José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the FAO. Da Silva writes that the report concurs in some areas with FAO's "State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World" report of 2018. He also comments that food systems are leading to increased consumption of industrialised and processed foods that are high in trans fats, sugar, salt and chemical additives, as well as high calorie foods that are low in nutrients.
He does not mention red meat at all, logically, because the properties that he did refer to are not properties of red meat. However, the report itself does make extensive references to negative impacts to climate and health from red meat "reducing (red meat) consumption is a cornerstone for healthy sustainable diets, but achieving this will be formidable given the current supply and demand dynamics." It is worth quoting at length their claims against red meat as a syndemic driver:
"Although animals are an integral part of many well–functioning agroecological systems and permanent pastures on which animals graze can be important carbon sinks, livestock production is a major contributor to climate change (19% of all greenhouse gases). The greenhouse gases are related to methane emissions from enteric fermentation, nitrous oxide emissions from manure and fertiliser application, and the considerable inputs required to grow cereal and oilseed crops for use as livestock feed in industrial livestock farming. Livestock also use approximately 70% of global agricultural land and are a prime driver of deforestation. Intensive production systems also contribute substantially to localised pollution through effluents and air pollution.
"The links between excess meat consumption and obesity and related NCDs are also well known. Excess meat consumption can contribute to obesity. Red meat consumption (particularly processed meat) is associated with increased risk of NCDs including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Animal–source foods, including meat, provide a rich source of highly bioavailable micronutrients, especially for young children, and make an important contribution to high quality diets when consumed in moderation.
"In many regions, livestock production is also an important contributor to livelihoods, household income, and national wealth, and in semi–arid and arid areas there are often few other productive land uses. However, production of feed for livestock can divert food away from direct human consumption, and threaten food security and the livelihoods of populations displaced by the expansion of crop land for feed production, which is also an important cause of deforestation."
They state "Reducing red meat consumption through taxes, redirected subsidies, health and environmental labelling, and social marketing would lead to healthier diets for cancer and obesity prevention, more land for efficient, sustainable agriculture, providing opportunities to reduce undernutrition, and lower GHG emissions from agriculture. Furthermore, the costs of products such as red meat and petrol should reflect the costs of their damages to the environment."
While we support the notion of prioritising sustainability in policy development, there seem to be at least two foregone conclusions that need to be challenged. Firstly, they have concluded that red meat production is environmentally unsustainable regardless of the system of production, and secondly they have drawn some rather tenuous health conclusions on the basis of epidemiological data. Neither of these claims are well founded or should be used as the basis for policy decisions.
These discussions are going to continue and intensify. They represent a new level of opposition to red meat that is trying to influence policy, and will lead to industry having to demonstrate how we are reducing our impact in all GRSBs principle areas. Ultimately this should strengthen GRSB and the sustainability movement.